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AXUM (2100m altitude)

Located in northern Ethiopia, Aksum reached its height between the 1st and 10th centuries, recalled in later centuries as a golden age. This was a kingdom of great wealth and sophistication, controlling the caravan routes from the hinterland of Africa, and the ancient Greek geographers describe its trade in ivory and slaves. Its kings minted a gold coinage when almost no one else in the world was rich enough to afford it or sophisticated enough to require it.

Aksum's mythical past has been preserved in the famous epic known as The Glory of Kings. This describes the Queen of Sheba traveling from Ethiopia to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, in the hope of learning something of his famous wisdom. The king is fascinated by her beauty and her intelligence, and the son who is born from their union becomes the founder of the Ethiopian dynasty. When he travels to Jerusalem himself to be anointed by his father, the Ark of the Covenant, the chest containing the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments, accompanies him to Ethiopia, where it will remain until the End of Time and the Last Judgment. According to Ethiopian tradition, the Ark of the Covenant

Akum because of its antiquity and close contacts with both east and west was involved at one time or another with no fewer than four of the world’s religions, the Hellenistic faith of the ancient Greeks, whose Gods are honored in the Earliest Akumite inscriptions as well as three great monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each of these faiths, and in particular the later two, have played its own formative role in building the culture and society of Ethiopian today.

The Aksumite kingdom conversion to Christianity makes Ethiopia one of the oldest Christian countries. Christianity, which became the official creed of the Axumite state early in 333 AD, during the rain of king Ezana, Ethiopia, became the land of innumerable churches and monasteries. The oldest of these churches and in deed the oldest church in Africa south of Sahara is the original St. Mary of Zion, which dated back to the forth century. It was burned down in 16th century (1535) by the Muslim invader Ahmed Gragn. Years later it was subsequently replaced by battlemented structure constructed by Emperor Fasilades in the Early 17th C, 1662 in the same style as his castle at Gondar. A third church of St. Mary and the only one open to woman was built nearby in the mid 1960’s by Emperior Haileselasse.

Aksum is the holiest city in Ethiopia. According to the Orthodox Church, the original Ark of the Covenant, which holds the Ten Commandments, remains at Aksum today, under close guard of a priest. The Ark is supposed to live somewhere in the grounds of the 17th-century St Mary of Zion church, but of course no one is allowed to look at it. The church's museum has a small but impressive collection of bibles, crosses and crowns.
Just past the museum is Aksum's ancient stele field, all that remains of the city's past glory. Stelae are huge, carved pillars made from single blocks of granite. The largest  obelisk, which was 35 meters long and weighed 500 tons, is the biggest piece of  stone ever cut by humanity anywhere in the world but today it lies broken on the ground. Near it stands a smaller but nevertheless most impressive 24-metre-high obelisk - the pride of Ethiopia. A somewhat larger obelisk was taken to Rome; on the orders of the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, in 1937.This has   returned back to is home, Akum recently. Plans are also under consideration for the re-erection of the obelisk.

If you take a walk outside the town, you can have a look at the ruins of King Kaleb's Tomb, and if you keep going up the hill you'll end up at the Pentalewon Monastery - women aren't allowed in, but the views from here are lovely. The ruins of the Queen of Sheba's Palace are also outside the town, although archaeological investigation suggests they are 1500 rather than 2500 years old.


Yeha is situated 55 kms east of Axum, accessible by the main road to Adwa, past the very dramatic scenery of the mountains of Adwa - site of Emperor Menelik II's famous defeat of the Italians over a century ago-then by a small road turning right wards Enticcio. This whole area shows an almost incredible amount of terracing-noted already in the last century but of unknown original date- on the flanking hills. From the secondary rode one turns left on to a track for 5 kms to rich to the splendid valley, in which, on a knoll backed by the surrounding hills, stands the temple. The imposing structure is visible from the distance, raising above the church of Enda Aba Afse and its enclosure. The temple is a magnificent structure, which has no equal anywhere in Ethiopia. Extremely well preserved, with up to 52 course masonry, it dominates the whole valley with its high windowless wool. It was Ethiopians first known capital in the 5th century BC. Yeha is considered as the birth of the countries earliest civilization. The pre Christian massive walls of the Temple, ruins at the old capital and inscriptions dating from the 5th century BC and the nearby church are worth to visit.


The ancient monastery of Debra Damo is the oldest standing church in Ethiopia and the center of the Ethiopian church. Debra Damo is built on a high plateau north of Aksum, and can only be reached by scaling a cliff by means of a leather rope. Its inaccessibility gives some clue why the monastery served as a sanctuary for Ethiopia's rulers during times of war.According to Ethiopian tradition, holy men known as the Nine Saints arrived in Ethiopia in the 5th or 6th century to spread Christianity. One of these men, Za-Mikael Aregawi, is believed to have founded Debra Damo. It was a monk trained at Debra Damo who became the patron of the Solomonid pretender Yekuno Amlak, and helped him to overthrow the last of the Zagwe kings. Especially during the Zagwe dynasty, the aristocratic families of the north saw the great monasteries as an alternate base for power. As the wealth of the monasteries depended on temporary land grants known as gült, the abbots had to possess the sophistication of a courtier. The king often used these grants to enrich the monasteries that would support him, and the Zagwe were quite rightly suspicious of Debra Damo.

Check Related Trips:
Trip to Axum By air
Trip to Axum On Land

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